Memories- for John

For my cousin who is bravely battling cancer. As I type this, I am crying. Life is so precious and we need to remember to tell those we love that we love them. There may not be a next time.

What I love about John:
Riding in the back of his parents’ old station wagon with the seats folded up, way before the era of seatbelts and car seats. We would slide around like crazy with every wild turn his dad made until one of us (me) would get stuck between the seats and start crying. He never made fun of me for it, no matter how big a baby I was.

He always shared his toys, and we would play with Lincoln logs, legos, pick- up sticks, tinker toys, and tiddly-winks for hours.
Going to the ballpark together to watch Jay, playing in the red dirt, and eating park food until we both got stomach aches.

Sparklers every Christmas Eve at Aunt Evonne’s and Uncle Charlie’s, and playing with the old spinning wheel.

Whenever his Mom baked a cake, she would make a line with a spatula down the middle of the bowl for us to lick the batter. John never put up a fuss that I always picked the biggest “half.”

Playing in the hay loft at Grandpa’s. John pushed all of us around on the cart so fast we felt like we were flying, occasionally crashing into the hay bales.

Going on horse rides, three to a saddle.

Eating dinner at his parents’ home when we were young. We’d sit on the bench together and manage to inhale the food quickly so that we could slide down, crawl under the table, and rush outside to play.

The tire swing.

He was always barefoot when he was little.

Sliding down a big grass hill in cardboard boxes.

We drove together very late one night on an eight hour trip, both really tired. He stayed awake with me while I drove the first part; when he took over, I fell asleep almost instantly leaving him to fight fatigue alone and take us safely home. He didn’t mind.

When his Mom had surgery and while I was engaged to my future ex-husband whom the family hadn’t yet met, John and I were in the waiting room together, both strung out and worried. He nudged me when we saw a fellow with a really bad toupee. I gave him a serious look, and said that the man’s hair was just like my fiancé’s. The horrified look on John’s face was priceless! He was absolutely speechless (which almost never happens)- until I started laughing. I can still picture his expression!

When I divorced, John told me “I want you to be happy, the guy’s a douche, and you can do a lot better.” All our lives, he’s always had my back.

Trivial Pursuit one Thanksgiving night at his Mom’s house.

Visiting with John and Jay at Jay’s house, drinking beer, and laughing so hard I was afraid I’d pee on myself. Those two always make me laugh.

His wonderful sense of humor and facial expressions- just one look can crack me up.

When John met my son, he made Austin feel like he’s known him his whole life. John has that way of making people so comfortable. I love it that he never meets a stranger.

Hearing John talk about how much he loves his wife and daughter, and knowing that he is loved.

Being greeted with “Hey pretty lady,” every time we talk in person or on the phone.

Getting to tell him I love him and hearing those precious words in return.

What You Know

Fear grabbed her heart as tightly and quickly as the paws of a bear when it has finally caught its prey. Her chest hurt while her pulse raced and she struggled to catch her breath, knowing each one might be the last she took in this world. A cold sweat claimed her skin as its own and she struggled against the urge to scream. Thoughts of regret raced through her mind as she wished she had more time to make things right.
Sounds like the middle of a B-rated horror movie, but no. This was the trip to the grocery store yesterday. Instead of occurring in some dark wooded area with the audible heavy footsteps of a rapidly approaching, crazed, one-eyed killer with a chainsaw, this little pathetic scene took place in the produce section on an ordinary Tuesday. Like mushrooms in a garden after heavy rains, my ugly anxiety appears suddenly, without warning, and in the oddest and most mundane places.
As I forced myself to continue the shopping (mainly since I’d run out of cat food and my cat, who is temperamental under the best circumstances, gets really aggressive when he even thinks he is hungry), the anxiety continued. I kept trying to talk myself down- not aloud, just in my head, since I already felt crazy enough at the time- saying “Don’t be stupid, get a grip, you’re ridiculous,” and whatever other ‘soothing’ bits of wisdom I could drum up. Yes, simultaneously I could hear Dr. Phil in my head too, asking, “How’s that working for ya?” Obviously, not too freakin’ well, Dr. Phil, but in the midst of a full-blown panic attack, it’s a bit difficult to change strategies! It didn’t help that there were only two checkout lanes open after I’d somehow managed to get everything on my list (thank goodness for lists!)… or that the two lanes open were both for 20 items or less… or that there was an obnoxious woman with a cell phone glued to her ear, loudly arguing over each item the cashier scanned and demanding to see the manager once every minute when the item didn’t ring up ‘on sale’ despite the fact she had last week’s circular in her hand. I made it home, finally, without the world ending, where the panic attack at last stopped, the chest pain subsided, and my breathing returned to normal.
Tips for writers often including writing about what you know. Anxiety is what I know. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a real phenomenon that affects some of us. There are well-intentioned people who try to help by saying, “Calm down. Don’t be anxious.” We would if we were able. It’s more helpful just to be with the person. Sometimes these crazy attacks just need to run their course.

Murder of a Too-some

Too old, too fat, too slow, too stupid, too weak, too ugly, too boring- these are the words I say constantly when thinking of ways to stop myself from achieving what I want. Just typing this now, I see in black and white what an ugly word ‘too’ is, and realize it’s time to eliminate that word from the sometimes scary place I call my mind.
Two (haha, not too!) days ago, I started back with training rides on my bike. Having used my bike for commuting to and from work for the past six months, I’d gotten away from cycling on my days off and the lack of training shows. This time last year, going for a 25 mile ride was a fairly easy way to get the blood pumping and the muscles warmed up; now going for an hour ride is a HUGE workout.
A side note- the triple digit heat index may have a little to do with it. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway!
I’ve also allowed myself to get away from writing, but that’s stopping right now and within the year, I will be writing about my first century ride.
So Miss Too, you’ve taken up TOO much space in my heart and head for way TOO long. Off you go and you won’t be missed. I’m replacing you with One. One mile, one goal, one step, one smile, one word at a time…

The Cat’s in the Cradle

That darn song gets to me every time I hear it…

I’ve worked at my job for 23 years now; it would take less than two weeks to replace me. That’s pretty humbling.

As a lot of us do, I started out in my 20’s ready to become the best nurse ever and with haughty dreams of changing the world. My career was very important and I was ready to learn as much as I could as quickly as possible. In my early 30’s, I felt like I was the best nurse I could be, had ‘seen it all’, was valued and valuable, and was changing the world… or at least my little corner of it. Work was the highest priority.

In my mid- and late 30’s, time spent at the ball park with my son was way more important than work. Throwing a baseball, sweating profusely, the taste of stale hotdogs, and the smell of red dirt ranked much higher than starting IVs and performing endless physical assessments. Playing board games was priceless. Even as a teenager, my son still enjoys having a ‘family game night’ now and then. We have a close relationship, and I thank God for that every day.

As much as I invested in my son, I neglected spending time with extended family. Nieces, nephews, siblings, and parents were ignored by means of physical distance, emotional separation, and perceived lack of time. There were some visits but not often enough. Birthdays were missed, as were graduations, weddings, and many holidays. I grew apart from my family, always declining invitations then feeling sad when they were no longer offered and it seemed I was forgotten. It took a crisis several months ago to make me realize finally the importance of family.

Now in my 40’s, my job is something I do for three 12 hour shifts a week and the occasional meeting or conference. Though I work hard for my patients when I’m there, I don’t look to change the world of nursing and being a nurse no longer defines me. I’d rather define myself as a mom, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend. It’s challenging to make a re-entry into the family I put in last place for so long, and I wonder sometimes if it’s even possible or if it’s too late. I pray that God guides me so that I can continue to give love without coming on too strong (I have a history of doing that!) His way is so much better than ours.

A Tale of Two Patients

Sometimes we pray for signs from God giving us guidance, asking Him to let us know we are on the right path as we struggle with our own inadequate decisions. My answer was given when a bible literally slammed into my chest.

Patient One, Sam:

Sam lived on our transplant unit for about six months some fifteen years ago awaiting a new heart to replace his own. He had dilated cardiomyopathy (in essence, a giant and floppy heart) and was dependent on two continuous IV infusions to keep that heart beating, in addition to a slew of oral medications. A magnanimous man in his 40’s, Sam was the kind of person others cannot forget. Always wearing a smile and having a great sense of humor, he was a born-again Christian who had remarried; he had one little boy from that second marriage in addition to several grown children from his younger and wilder days. I was his nurse most days I worked.

Passing the time at a hospital is challenging, particularly when a patient is there for a much extended stay. Sam built model cars during his days there. His family would bring him a couple of new ones every weekend, and he worked on them throughout the week. He’d sneak to the nearest stairwell, pulling his IV pole with him, to apply paint to his latest car; when administration happened to visit our unit, the other nurses and I would cover for him and deny that we had any knowledge whatsoever of just where that lingering scent of spray-paint was coming from.

As much as I loved Sam, I was very uncomfortable when he spoke of his faith and of Jesus; it was a time in my life I just wasn’t ready to hear about it. He would start talking and I’d try to change the subject. He would push, and I’d resist. He eventually won… I’m so glad.

When a heart finally became available for Sam after all those months of waiting, he decided against having a transplant. He was discharged shortly afterwards and died at home with his family by his side. Before leaving the hospital, Sam gave me a bible. I keep it at work, and have shared it several times throughout the years with patients and their families who have expressed the wish that they had a bible to read.

Patient Two, Lindsey:

Lindsey is a 24 year old beautiful girl that we have known since she received a liver transplant at the age of thirteen. Since that time, she has spent at least half of her life with us in the hospital. Most of her Christmases and birthdays have been at the hospital with our staff as her only visitors. We have seen her through multiple surgeries and recoveries, loads of new hairstyles, and a particularly difficult period of smart-aleck teenage attitude.

The last major surgery Lindsey underwent was about three years ago, and it nearly killed her. She spent weeks in ICU, hooked to machines, with no one at her bedside other than our staff. It is a miracle that she survived.

Lindsey’s mother visits once a month, on the first of the month, so that her daughter can sign over her disability and welfare checks to her. The only times that the visits last longer than 20 minutes is when the woman falls asleep on Lindsey’s couch in her hospital room. Lindsey’s siblings are the same way- they drop by to get their sister’s car keys.

The Moment:

I had a break from being charge nurse, and was caring for my own small group of patients when Lindsey’s nurse approached me and said, “Lindsey is crying her eyeballs out, and I don’t know how to help her.” When I went to her, Lindsey was crying hard enough to barely catch her breath. I held her as she sobbed that her family didn’t care about her- she’d finally had enough and had understandably reached the point of utter despair and loneliness.

We spoke of faith and how much God loves her. When she said that she wished she had remembered to bring her bible, I offered her mine-relief washed over her.

When I opened my locker, the bible immediately slipped quickly off the top shelf and hit me so hard in the chest that it made a loud thud! Two of my coworkers were eating lunch in the break room, and jumped at the sound, asking, “What was that?” They remembered Sam with great fondness from all those years ago, and we all shared a laugh as I briefly explained what was going on… Sam always knew I needed to be pushed a little (or a lot!)

Lindsey and I held the bible in our hands; when we opened it, we saw Psalm 40 and read aloud together.

A little side-note here… Just a few days before, my sister Mary had shared part of Psalm 40 with us as she offered an Easter prayer for our family. It was a beautiful prayer of love, hope, remembrance, and gratitude that felt like a new beginning of healing for our family.

Amazing how perfect God’s timing is…

Just a nurse

Yesterday was Transplant Nurses Day; as a charge nurse on our step-down unit, it is such a deep honor to work so closely with some of the best nurses around. Every single day, I am awed by the works of the nurses. We care for the types of patients who are considered to be ICU patients in other facilities.

  1. A nurse is the first person to lay hands on a patient whose heart has stopped to initiate CPR.  When God saves a life, it is the nurse who feels that heart begin to beat again beneath her hands.
  2. A nurse is the one to recognize the earliest signs that a patient is having a stroke, to get the needed diagnostic tests ordered for a patient, and to administer life saving medication.
  3. It is a nurse who touches her patient’s cool skin when she hears the words, “I just don’t feel right,” and realizes her patient is having a heart attack. That same nurse sees a slight change in blood pressure with another patient, gets orders for a sepsis work-up, starts antibiotics immediately, and saves the patient a trip to ICU… or worse.
  4. A nurse is the one who catches an error in medication dosing before it reaches the patient.
  5. A nurse is the one who teaches a new doctor which medication reverses the effects of benzodiazepines with a patient who is barely breathing, gives the medicines, and watches the patient wake up.
  6. A nurse holds a 41 year old man newly diagnosed with end-stage heart failure in her arms and lets him cry big tears on her shoulder as he worries about what will become of his wife and three children.
  7. A nurse shows her patient who just received a kidney transplant the urine pouring into his foley catheter, sees the tears of joy in his eyes, and chants with him and his family that pee is beautiful.
  8. A nurse puts her stethoscope in her patient’s ears and lets him listen for the first time to the sound of the heart that was transplanted into his body a few days before.
  9. A nurse holds a ten-year old little girl’s hand as she whispers a final goodbye to her dying mother.
  10. A nurse cheers loudly with unabashed shouts of “Whoo-hoo!” as she watches a patient who wasn’t expected to live walk out of the hospital.
  11. Nurses are the ones who teach transplant patients how to avoid infections (which can be lethal) once they go home, and teach them self care so that they can enjoy their new chance at life.
  12. When there is no hope left for a patient and the family says, “There’s nothing anyone can do,” it’s the nurse who tells them “There is something we can do. We can keep your dad comfortable.” 

These are just a few of the things our nurses do…

Perfect timing

One of the best moments ever in my nursing career happened today.

We received a patient going for a lung transplant today. Shortly after Mr. W. arrived, I happened to be visiting with a patient  (Mr. L.)  who had the same surgery a week ago. After wearing oxygen for the past year and being unable to leave his home without that life-saving equipment, Mr. L is recovering well and is able to breathe on his own without any supplemental oxygen. He was bored today as his family returned home for a few hours, and asked if there were any other lung transplant patients on our unit.

The light bulb went on over my head like it does in the comics, and I said, “Oh, I think I know just the one- I’ll be right back!”

Mr. W was excited to be meeting him. Taking Mr. L into the room, I got to see both men grin simultaneously and enormously! Mr. W asked, “Hey, buddy! What’s it like to breathe again?” The two became fast friends, and even posed for photos taken by Mr. W’s wife. What perfect and divine timing to see a success story in person right before going into surgery!

I still have chill bumps as I’m writing this, and am so grateful for the opportunity to have witnessed it. Definitely an unforgettable moment!